With respect to words . . .

by Pam Tinsley

#Tagxedo Wordcloud: Pope Francis’s address to a joint meeting of Congress, September 24, 2015

“Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” was one of the questions we were asked as we renewed our baptismal promises on the First Sunday after the Epiphany (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). This question was especially poignant in the face of the vitriol spewed by the administration’s leaders which resulted in an impasse that requires hundreds of thousands of government employees to work without pay. The longest government shutdown in our nation’s history is having a rippling effect on some people and a tsunami effect on others, such as those who rely on the government for essential services like food inspection, airport security, food for children and their families, and loans for already financially strapped farmers, not to mention paychecks for contract workers required to work and who will not receive back pay.

Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

As we wait for our elected officials to lead, I’m reminded that each one of us is a leader within our own sphere of influence. The words we proclaim on Sunday mornings when we renew our baptismal promises are not meant to be for Sunday only, or for only within the walls of the church. They are words meant for every day. They are words meant for each situation we encounter when we relate to others, regardless of whether they look like us, where they are from, or whether they hold the same opinions or beliefs as we do. Merely words? No! Words that shape how we live.

Living by the words of our baptismal covenant, including “will you respect the dignity of every human being,” requires us to hold our leaders accountable. This includes speaking up when the dignity of others is violated, because silence, after all, is consent. Our baptismal promises also call us to respect the dignity of those with whom we disagree. And therein lies the challenge.

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